Meshing+Mapping as Conceptual Art

Um, not really. I’m just silly.  However, much like many conceptual artists, being an over-thinking daydreamer is actually useful in making 3D content.

I have a fondness for processes and systems, and when I began recoloring I, of course, quickly developed a system for preparing to do so: export an .obj file and .pngs from SimPE, obtain a map of each section in LithUnwrap, combine map+appropriate .png as a new layer in PhotoShop, name file as a master for that object…next! This process turned out to be helpful in an unexpected way – I have been able to easily identify files that are basically not worth recoloring due to their horrible mapping.

Good mapping allows the original creator and any future recolorists to apply textures individually to surfaces, rather than wrapping an entire object in floodfill. Any object that might conceivably be textured as wood should be mapped with consideration to grain patterns, which means, for instance, that table legs do NOT cross one another at right angles (or any angles at all!) on the texture. When I see a map that has the largest portions of the mesh mapped to the smallest part of the texture, random placement and/or overlapping of components, and completely weird, jagged edges on sections mapped to curves and volumes, I am relatively certain that the mapping is the result of the meshing program’s default mapping system rather than decisions on the part of the mesher. If a mesher has some perverse need to see only floodfill recolors of his or her objects, then allowing this to happen is absolutely ideal. Otherwise, reconceptualization of the meshing and mapping process may well result in better creations and more recolors.

Before you even begin to mesh, consider what it is you are making and what sort of textures you anticipate using. Whether it’s bare wood or an overstuffed armchair, a chair is made of at least a seat, usually legs, and probably a backrest. A table has a horizontal surface and some sort of vertical support, either a central post or some number of legs at the edges. A vase of flowers has a hollow shape for the container, a slender post for the stem, and petals and leaves of varying flat, ovoid shapes. In all cases, there are elements of the mesh that will be repeated, and it will save a lot of time and effort if you regard these repeating elements as derivations of a single object: you don’t have four legs on a table, you have a single leg repeated four times – and that’s exactly how you go about making it.

For example, in order to make a typical dining chair, I need to mesh only a very few things, and not necessarily in complete-appearing sections. I need to mesh a seat, perhaps only a half or quarter of a seat depending on both the style of chair and the type of texturing I anticipate applying. I will need two types of legs for this example: a short leg for the front of the chair, and a leg for the back that continues up above the seat level to form the side of the backrest. I need a piece to bridge the gap between the back legs to serve as the backrest. I may want bracing bars to go between the chair’s legs. I only need one of each of these things because it’s much easier to map a single leg while it’s in a “neutral” position, then move it and duplicate it as necessary, than it is to map two separate legs that are attached to a chair seat.

I don’t map meshes; I map bits and then combine them into meshes. This may be a well-known practice in other realms of 3D fiddling, but since I couldn’t find tutorials for anything beyond mapping boxes for the Sims 2, I have a feeling that this method will be unfamiliar to quite a few meshers, even those with more experience than I am likely to ever have.

It is handy to remember that, once mapped, a mesh object will retain its mapping regardless of position. This means that the table parts that you meshed, mapped, and combined into a recognizable table will still be a recognizable table turned on its side, with a leg “broken” off, etc. Once you become accustomed to the idea that your mesh is configurable to a great degree, you will also need to start thinking about the ways in which you might want to manipulate the individual elements. If you think you might want to break a table leg – or make a shorter version for a coffeetable – you need to create a mesh that can be split without rebuilding and/or remapping. A cylinder with a single “stack” cannot be bent; there are no points to serve as axes for the direction change. If you have to add vertices and faces to a mesh component that has already been mapped, it will need remapping, so it’s better to try to anticipate everything you might reasonable wish to do to a given set of mesh pieces. I have a tendency to overlook or discount many of these options in an effort to keep polycounts low, but then I have to go back and rebuild mesh parts to accomplish whatever I’m trying to do.

As it happens, I screwed up just last night. It’s easy for me to start messing around in Milkshape and have something fairly complicated built before recognizing that I’ve gotten ahead of myself and will have to go back and start over, or mostly over. Luckily, this attempt at remaking a 5000+ poly chair is not a particularly complex mesh object. I haven’t made the corrections to it yet; I am showing you my shameful mistakes and explaining what I need to do and why. I will do a step-by-step picture tutorial at some point, but I need to actually plan that. This was a happy accident, at least in terms of being a useful example.

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